Next Line, Please

Three-Piece Cento With Extra Pants

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By Angela Ball

September 29, 2015


 

 

What genius tailoring in this week’s cento entries. Let’s take Paul Michelsen’s suggestion—slightly altered—for the title. I choose one of his stanzas as our waistcoat—a snazzy one indeed:

There is no arguing with the fashion.
Interpreters of that same holy mystery
wait to make the proper drop-dead entrance
in torched and tumbled chiffon.

Sources:
Folkways by William Graham Sumner
Sartor Resartus by Thomas Carlyle
Tom Wolfe’s introduction to A La Mode: On the Social Psychology of Fashion by René König
Couture” by Mark Doty

Michelsen’s materials come together in a wryly humorous, elegant stanza, stitching satire to beauty.

And for our extra trousers, since, as we know well, they wear out first, I choose Berwyn Moore’s durable weave:

Let the wench pull a garment from its hanger
like she’s choosing a body and wear it like skin.
Let us thatch ourselves anew. Let be be finale of seam.
Thus does the good Homer not only nod, but snore.

Sources:
The Emperor of Ice-Cream” by Wallace Stevens (She changed “seem” to “seam.”)
What Do Women Want?” by Kim Addonizio
Sartor Resartus by Thomas Carlyle

Carlyle himself would appreciate Moore’s punning “seam.”  And how perfect to end with the great blind poet, who knew fashion by touch alone, yet wove world-making stories, and Sartor Resartus, the work that threaded our poetic needles.

There is much more that deserves mention: how stunning Patricia Smith’s selection of Yeats’s  “… a tress Of dull red hair… flowing Over some silken dress … .” And how delightful to be invited to LaWanda Walters’s 1970s swimming hole, and to view her collision of Thomas Carlyle and David Byrne. I agree with Paul Michelsen’s comment on our cento: “It’s a strange and exhilarating way of collaborating with both the living and the dead.”

Now it’s time to remove our thimbles and leave the untouched bolts of poetry for future garments.

Three-Piece Cento With Extra Pants

With what shall this Philosophy of Clothes
clothe its naked Truth—rough woolen cloak
of the countryside or silken mantle—
obscuring yet exposing its muscle, its os?
—Patricia Smith

Society … is founded upon cloth,
clothwebs and cobwebs, dead fleeces of sheep.
Logic-choppers stupidly grope about.
Hunger-bitten, they kiss your pudding-cheek.
—Berwyn Moore

There is no arguing with the fashion.
Interpreters of that same holy mystery
wait to make the proper drop-dead entrance
in torched and tumbled chiffon.
—Paul Michelsen

Let the wench pull a garment from its hanger
like she’s choosing a body and wear it like skin.
Let us thatch ourselves anew. Let be be finale of seam.
Thus does the good Homer not only nod, but snore.
—Berwyn Moore

I am thrilled to announce next Tuesday’s return of Quiz Master David Lehman, fresh from the launch of the brand-new Best American Poetry, and with his Sinatra’s Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World excitingly close to its publication date. In his poem “January 10,” David responds to the question, “How was your fall?” with “I’m still falling.” I can’t wait for David to make us fall for poetry in ways as yet unimagined. We can guess that his new prompts will be, as always, exacting but not pedantic, and with his special flair: a twist appearing like a je-ne-sais-quoi shadow from a city doorway.

Thank you, generous poets, for taking part in our summer’s experiments in verse. Your enthusiasm for the tasks set before you has buoyed me more than you can guess, and your every kind comment was received and appreciated.

And so, good-bye for now. I’m glad to say that I may have other chances to task you with poetry; should David again need a designated hitter for Next Line, Please, I will be ready.


Angela Ball is a professor of English at the University of Southern Mississippi. She is the author of five poetry collections, including, most recently, Night Clerk at the Hotel of Both Worlds.

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